Wednesday, 15 October, 2014

Lauren is one of our amazing Holocaust Memorial Day Youth Champions.  She recently appeared on the Channel 4 show, The Secret Life of Students which followed the experience of her and other students, as they settled into life at the University of Leicester.

Lauren is passionate about studying history and her idol is Anne Frank. She joined the HMD Youth Champion programme last year. We speak to her about what drives her to raise awareness of Holocaust Memorial Day.

What inspired you to become a HMD Youth Champion?

I have always been interested in the Holocaust as a historical subject, I first read The Diary of Anne Frank a long time ago and since then have read it 37 times.

Before I came to university I taught lessons for Holocaust Memorial Day in primary schools and in the local youth centre. We used history alongside arts and drama workshops to engage the students.

We also used the personal stories of Holocaust and genocide survivors, to forge that connection – and to make people realise that it’s not just about facts, figures and history, it’s about people and our shared humanity.

Have you got plans to mark HMD this year?

Last year I volunteered at the UK national event in London and I would love to take part in that again. It was wonderful to speak to survivors.

I’ll also be helping out with our event at University of Leicester.  In Leicester we have a really multicultural community but we’ve also had issues with extreme right wing groups like the EDL, so I think here HMD is particularly resonant in highlighting where hatred and lack of tolerance can lead us.

I’m already thinking forward to my dissertation in a couple of year’s time. I’m really keen to focus it on memories of the Holocaust – so I was very excited to hear the announcement of this year’s theme Keep the memory alive.

What do you enjoy most about being a HMD Youth Champion?

For me, it is all about the survivors. I enjoy talking to survivors, listening to their stories and whilst we still can, I believe this is something that we should all do.

I also believe it’s important to speak out and inspire others to as well. The Holocaust as an event was something that was so horrific that we can’t let it be confined to history. Genocide continues to take place today in Darfur, perhaps it’s not our doorstep but it’s not that far away either.

Why do you think it’s so important for students and young people to learn about the Holocaust and genocide?

Because genocide still happens internationally. Recently I’ve been following what’s been taking place with the Yazidis in Iraq. It scares me that we think the world is a tolerant place and so many people don’t realise that these events are happening, it also saddens me that we still don’t live in a world where it is completely acceptable that we are not the same.

In the UK, I think groups like the British National Party (BNP) and English Defence League (EDL) are scary. It’s reinforced my opinion that we need to speak about these things, to raise awareness and empower more people to take a stand when they feel something is wrong. I feel the moral responsibility to speak out, I think it’s the least I can do.  When I was filming The Secret Life of Students some of the people in my house were doing the Nazi salute for a joke and I don’t think this is on, so I took a stand and I spoke out against it.

Holocaust Memorial Day teaches people about the need for tolerance and acknowledging differences in our society – it’s more than just history, it’s about people and cultures. It challenges us to lead our lives differently and not repeat the mistakes of the past.

What are the lessons that you think young people can learn from these tragic events?

That it is more than just history. Tolerance and respect for differences is fundamental to build democratic and peaceful societies.

I think it’s important to not just use statistics. Six million doesn’t mean much but when you start to think of it as one person with parents, children, friends – you start to feel how big an impact six million can have.

What is it about Anne Frank that is so relevant and inspirational to you today?

I’m inspired by how she found light-heartedness and positivity in her life even when she was forced to live in hiding. Even though she knew what was happening to the people all around her she still maintained her belief in the goodness of humanity.

Maybe that should be something we should all learn.

If you’re aged 14 – 24, are passionate about human rights and are interested in becoming a HMD Youth Champion then sign up to our Youth Champion workshops taking place in Liverpool, London and Edinburgh in October and November.